MIDDLESBORO — The son of a snake-handling pastor who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service Saturday night plans to take his father's place in the pulpit starting this weekend.
Cody Coots, 21, said he would become pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, where his father had preached much of his adult life. His first service will be Saturday.
Snake handling and other signs of faith will continue in the church, Coots said Thursday.
"I'll carry it on," he said. "That's what he believed in. It's what he stood for."
Jamie Coots, 42, was handling three rattlesnakes during a service when a 21⁄2-foot-long snake bit his right hand.
Coots had survived other bites, but he lost consciousness that night within minutes. His son and others rushed him home.
Coots had refused medical treatment for bites in the past and had told his family never to take him to the hospital if he was bitten and incapacitated. Snake handlers typically rely on prayer for healing.
Coots' family members refused medical treatment for him after paramedics came to his house, then prayed for him until it was evident he had died.
He was pronounced dead about 90 minutes after he was bitten.
Cody Coots said he began to get requests almost immediately to take his father's place at the small church, which he said has about 20 members.
Coots said he has handled rattlesnakes and other venomous reptiles in church since he was 18, and has preached a number of times at his father's request.
Still, it's a daunting proposition to take over for his father.
Jamie Coots was an experienced pastor who seemed to have an answer for every question and a solution for every problem, his son said.
Cody Coots hadn't expected his father to die so young, so he hadn't asked some of the "hard questions" about how to help people with their problems.
"Taking over the church, it's going to be a hard responsibility," Coots said.
He asked that people pray for him.
Snake handlers believe they are obeying a biblical command in picking up snakes. They follow a literal interpretation of the King James Bible, including this passage in Mark 16: 17-18: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Jamie Coots was prominent among the close-knit circle of snake-handling Pentecostal churches in Appalachia, but he gained wider notice last year when he appeared on a National Geographic Television program called Snake Salvation, which profiled him and snake handlers' beliefs.
"What he taught me and what the word of God says, I'll stand on the signs and the baptism and everything until either I die or they kick me out of church," Cody Coots said. "Because if I didn't, he'd be disappointed."